Having first opened on National Day in 2004, Bab Al Shams became an icon of sorts as one of the Dubai’s few ‘desert resorts’, tucked away from the usual hustle and bustle of the city, and surrounded by sandy dunes and a rich ecosystem. Now under the management of Kerzner International – part of its newly launched Rare Finds brand – the luxury property has undergone a nine-month renovation by LW Design to mark a new chapter in its long-standing history. While the role of heritage had always been central in defining the resort, LW Design was tasked with injecting contemporary elements into the interiors, while still paying homage to the desert culture of the region.
The entrance to the resort announces itself with a restrained material palette, blending with the Barasti-style canopies, abode walls and columns that mimic the vernacular-inspired architecture. The new porte-cochère provides a threshold with dappled shade, while the original carved and metal-studded doors have been re-stained for a nostalgic feel. The arrival experience into the foyer features locally inspired slatted screens that guide visitors to the reception desk, while the banquette – centred on the solid walnut reception desk – is the focal point of the check-in area.
The interior designers also worked with art consultants Capsule Arts to curate the art and artefacts that interweave the visual narrative with that of the interiors. One of the pieces is the hanging textile art behind the reception desk, by Iranian artist Mahsa Baraghani, inspired by Bedouin jewellery and headdresses worn by Emirati women. In the same area, another textile artwork by Loretta Bilinskaite-Monie features a minimalist interpretation of an embroidered Bisht, a traditional cloak worn in the UAE.
In other areas, works by Emirati photographer Mohammed Ahli present striking views of the Arabian desert, together with contemporary plasterwork on linen canvases, inspired by the hotel’s architecture, by Melissa Charlier. Each piece of art – from handcrafted items and framed objects to textile artworks and contemporary photography – was carefully selected to contribute to the story of ‘the lost princess and her palace of treasures’, chosen as the design narrative for the hotel’s relaunch.
“This approach is a prime example of how hotels can refurbish sustainably and stylishly,” says Rachael Brown, co-founder and creative director of Capsule Arts. “By repurposing existing items and elevating them with expert curation, the hotel retained its authentic charm and legacy while embracing contemporary design elements.”
The main lobby bar features an ornate counter, detailed with metal studs, walnut wood and mocha cream marble, fashioned as an apothecary table. In the same area, LW Design retained the skylight as one of the key features of the original design, allowing daylight to softly filter through the intricately patterned architectural elements and casting shadows throughout the space. Once the sun sets, the lighting design has been kept intimate and ambient, with fixtures design by Studio Lumen. The furniture has either been restored or handcrafted by local artisans, from the hand-knotted rugs to the jewel-toned upholstery.
The guest rooms and five signature suites have been transformed while also retaining some of their original design elements. The new concrete floor integrates the indoors and outdoors, while the solid teak doors were stripped and stained to a more authentic natural timber tone, balancing with the soft bastakiya-inspired colour palette synonymous with Bab Al Shams.
To soften and brighten the room – which has small windows and limited daylight – the designers used a lighter colour palette and mirrors to reflect light where possible. Each bedroom has high ceilings, detailed with timber beams and a feature ceiling fan, while many of the items have been re-used and upcycled, including the coat hangers, which have been re-lacquered to complement the new colour scheme.
The standalone spa building is due to open in April, with two hammams, five treatment rooms, a gym and a yoga deck adding to the experience of luxury in the desert.
Photography by Natelee Cox